In his testimony at the hearing “Prisoners of the Purge: The Victims of Turkey’s Failing Rule of Law” held at the United States Congress Helsinki Commission on November 15, 2017, Nate Schenkkan, a long-term Turkey expert, gave an overall picture of the failing rule of law in Turkey in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt.
The extent of the crackdown
“Under the emergency rule some 150.000 people have passed through police custody on the basis of terrorist offenses, membership of an armed group involving in a coup. At least 62.000 have been arrested. 153 journalists are in prison. More than 111.000 people were fired from public service, meaning that they are put on a blacklist, largely preventing them to find job in private sector,” Schenkkan said.
“State also closed and seized institutions around the country. 1412 associations, 15 universities run by foundations, 162 media outlets, 2271 private educational institutions, 19 unions, 969 companies valued at roughly 11 billion dollars,” he said.
“91 mayors have been removed from office and replaced by appointed trustees. 10 members of parliament are in prison. 2 members of their constitutional court are removed from office and arrested. 4240 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed. 28 law societies have been closed. At least 550 lawyers have been arrested,” Schenkkan told the commission.
Increased torture and forced disappearance
Shenkkan stated that “the emergency decrees reduced very important protections for those accused. There are increasingly credible reports of torture in detention and forced disappearences. This problem was largely eradicated prior to the coup attempt in Turkey.”
No expectation for an improvement in the rule of law in Turkey
He pointed out that “the executive body in Turkey is now constrained neither by the balance of power nor the rights of individuals when it chooses to use politicized justice to achieve its political ends.”
“The changes brought by referandum will enter into force in 2019, but it is clear what that effect will be. It will increase the President’s control over judiciary. He will appoint six out of 13 members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors which controls the appointments of the judiciary. The remaining appointments will be made by the Parliament which is currently under majority control of the President’s party. The oversight of the constitutional court has been downgraded as has that of the Council of the State,” he said.
He also stated that “problem with the rule of law in Turkey will be with us for a long time.”
“We should not expect an improvement in the rule of law prior or after the elections. It is not in Erdoğan’s interest and not in AKP’s interest to have a system more fairly and mor justly,” said Schenkkan.
Post-June 2015 elections scenario if Erdogan loses one of the elections in 2019
Schenkkan told that each of the three major elections in Turkey in 2019 (local elections in March 2019, parliamentary and presidential elections in November 2019) are important for Erdogan to remain in power or strengthen his control over state.
“If they win, they will continue the efforts to consolidate their patronial regime. If they lose, even one election, they need to tighten the screws in order to remain in power. This was what happened after the AKP lost majority in the Parliament in the June 2015 elections,” he said.
Anti-Western discourse in Turkey
“The use of anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism by President Erdogan and other political leaders in Turkey is driven by a domestic political dynamic.”
“The US has a long term strategic interest in Turkey being a stable state based on the rule of law in which political and ethnic minorities enjoy fundamental rights including the ability to participate fully in political processes. The US can not make Turkey into such a state.
The rule of law in the US is non-negotiable and individuals responsible for illegitimate detentions of US citizens and employees should be sanctioned
Schenkkan recommended three measures for the US government in its relations with Turkey. These measures include (1) implementing global magnetsky act and sanctioning officials responsible for grave human rights violations, (2) mandate by the US Congress to fund human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists in Turkey, (3) making it clear that the rule of law in the US and the protection of US government citizens and employees abroad are non-negotiable.
“If Turkish officials breach US laws, they will face criminal prosecution, as we have seen in the Reza Zarrab case. The US must also stress the attacks on US citizens, including the offensive conspiracy against Henry Barkey and the imprisonment of foreign service employees, these will also result in continuation of visa restrictions or other punitive measures. Congress should be ready to request sanctions against individuals responsible for illegitimate detentions of US employees, ” he said.
Seized businesses will be most likely handed over in manipulated auctions
In response to a question, Schenkkan said businesses with alleged affiliation to he Gulen Movement were seized and will be gradually auctioned. “In the last ten years, past auction processes for such cases have been very frequently, if not universally, manipulated. Especially the strategic interests like in the area of media are lined up with those friendly to President Erdogan” he said.
No genuine evidence for Gulen’s involvement in the coup attempt
In response to a question whether there was a reliable, objective and factual evidence recieved from the Turkish government about who was behind the coup attempt and which suggest Gulen network is involved, Schenkkan said that “there has been no genuine evidence offered of the coup attempt being directed from Pennsylvania, which is ofcourse the implication of Fethullah Gulen. That evidence continues to be circumstantial and based on inference, nt based on something that could stand up in the US court”
“There is evidence there were members of the Gulen Movement, some in military and some civilians who participatedin the coup attempt. What their role was, whether they were the exclusive leaders or whether they were coparticipants along with members of other factions in the military is not yet clear. This is hotly debated right now” he said.
Flynn’s meeting on Gulen’s extradition damaged the clear message that the US system of law is inviolable
As a response to a question about the impact of the meeting of Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor, on the extradition of Fethullah Gulen to Turkey, Shenkkan said “it damaged the clear message that the US needs to send and has been working to send that our system of law is inviolable. The implication that there could be a side deal outside the normal legal channels for the extradition or rendition of an individual who is legally entitled to reside in the US is very damaging.”
Schenkkan is a long-term Turkey expert, director of the Nations in Transit Project and writer of two Freedom House Special Reports on Turkey.